Before continuing my path to meet my friends in Costa Rica there was one city I wanted to visit. I’d read an article on Granada claiming the city to be ‘The Paris of Central America.’ I doubted the statement, but after seeing pictures knew I had to see for myself.
The night before arriving in Granada I booked a hotel room while laying on my tarp in a roofless farmhouse. The hotel was a bit pricy, especially for Nicaragua; I hadn’t paid for a place to sleep since leaving Honduras and meals were rarely more than five dollars. The cheap option was to stay at a hostel, but I wasn’t willing to leave Savannah and the cart in a bunk room. I figured all the money I saved on cheap food could be put towards the hotel.
The following day I hustled into Granada at eleven in the morning. I’d woken at four-thirty, hit the road at five-thirty, and only stopped for thirty minutes to chow down on some Oreos. The sun was harsh and a shower was beckoning so I moved quickly.
Sidewalks manifested as I entered the city. Then gringos appeared.
The first gringo I saw was a petit blonde girl with a Chapman backpack hugging her. I had an uncomfortable feeling seeing her, as though I’d been stripped of my status of traveler and been demoted to strange man with a baby carriage.
In smaller cities, where I was the only gringo, I never felt out of place. I stood out like a floodlight in the dark, but I knew where I stood; as a traveler. Now I wasn’t just ordinary, I was ridiculous.
But once I passed the blonde girl I forgot about her and noticed the beauty of Granada; clay tile roofs, ten foot wooden doors, buildings impeccably painted in every variety of color. The sidewalks were impossibly wide, sometimes stretching ten feet across. The buildings were all a single story, giving the city the feeling of a village. And the corners were occupied by expansive, open-air homes which I instinctually imagined myself living in as an obscure writer.
My hotel was only a few blocks off the main road.
Once I was in the clean, quiet atmosphere of the hotel I noticed my soaked shirt sticking to my chest and dried sweat cracking on my temples. I hadn’t showered or jumped in a river in over a week. I’m sure I smelled.
The lobby had a clay tile floor and wood tables surrounding a square garden with an opening in the roof to let in the weather.
I parked the cart by the garden then went over to the young woman at reception. I told her I had a reservation and she somehow ignored my uncomely appearance to tell me I was three hours early, but they would have a room ready in half an hour.
Eventually my room was ready and I was informed it was on the second floor. I brought Savannah to the room first, then hauled my cart up the steps, eventually squeezing the cart in the small space between the foot of my bed and the wall.
First, I turned on the AC, then I got in the shower.
Expecting cold water, I grinned when hot water came out, then stood under the shower for ten minutes doing nothing but allowing the water to run over me. Dirt rolled off my body and swirled into the drain.
After I turned off the shower I toweled off and dropped into my queen-sized bed freshly dirtied by Savannah’s paws. I turned to Savannah, who was looking at me from the other pillow, and debated whether she needed a cleaning.
It looked like she was wearing brown socks from the dirt on her legs, and her belly was a thicket of leaves and twigs. There was no avoiding it, she needed the shower.
I scooped her up and brought her into the shower with me, using Dr. Bronner’s to get her clean and pepperminty.
Months before, when I first showered her, she left my chest bleeding trying to escape. Now however, she sat dutifully, if not resentfully, while I washed her.
Once she was clean I dried her paws and let her shake out in the bathroom a few times. Her tail wagged for a moment then she went around the toilet and laid herself on the cool tile floor.
It was early afternoon, and I only had my room for one night, so I needed to resist the urge to take a siesta and get myself out to see the city.
As I dressed it occurred to me that a touristy city like Granada probably had a proper American steak somewhere.
I sat on the edge of my bed and searched on my phone for a steakhouse. Right away I found a steakhouse only a few blocks away, run by ex-pats, and housing a respectable collection of local cigars to boot. The prices were steep, for Nicaragua, but I again convinced myself I should spend the money, I’d been craving a good steak since at least Veracruz, Mexico, after all. I couldn’t let this opportunity pass me by.
First, I’d get a steak and a cigar, then I’d take pictures of the city. The lighting for photos was better when the sun was low anyway.
I said goodbye to Savannah then headed out.
Deep fantasies of a thick ribeye swelled in my head. That first cut, revealing the red center of a perfectly cooked steak. The fat marbling the meat like a tangle of wire. The juice seeping out with each cut only to be reabsorbed as I hold a cut of meat to it. And the tinge of salt paired with a sprinkling of pepper to further bridge the flavor of meat and fat.
I couldn’t get to the steakhouse fast enough. It opened at one and it was one o’clock. I wanted the first steak of the day on my plate.
Other than a tan middle-age woman, the restaurant was empty. The tables were huge cross-sections of trees placed on wine barrels. Through an entryway, beyond a set of leather chairs, I spotted the chef working away at some vegetables beside a doublewide silver fridge.
“Can I help you?”
I turned to see the tan woman smiling at me.
“I’m looking for a good steak,” I said. “A good, thick steak.” I held my thumb and index finger an inch apart.
“We have those, ribeye and filet, but we don’t start serving until four. We’re only selling cigars right now while the chef preps.”
“But come back at four.”
“I will, thank you.”
I paused for a minute to look over the selection of cigars that filled a wall. There were plenty of cigars; robustos, Churchills, Cubans, Nicaraguans, anything I could want.
But I didn’t want a cigar yet. The cigar would come after the steak.
I went back to my room, retrieved my camera, then headed back outside.
The hard sunlight wasn’t perfect for taking photos, but clouds were encroaching on the city from Lake Nicaragua and soon the light would be softened.
My SD had broken a few days before from deleting photos too fast, so, in the historic district, tucked in a small building from the sixteenth century, I bought another SD card from RadioShack. Maybe other travelers would have been disappointed to see a RadioShack in the heart of such a historic city, but I rejoiced, if I wasn’t able to find an electronic store in one of Nicaragua’s major cities, what hope did I ever have of finding one? I’d be without an SD card for who knew how long?
I passed through the central park, snapping pictures of women selling bowls of yucca, the palm trees waving, and people overlooking the commotion from the handful of buildings that had a second story.
Then I climbed the bell tower of Cathedral Granada. At the top it was five stories tall, allowing a view of the whole of Granada. The city’s square and rectangular buildings with their clay roofs were packed so tightly and so uniformly that the city appeared a tile floor in a giant’s unfinished house.
I took my pictures, watched people shifting about the park, then descended.
Once I left the cathedral I wandered around the backstreets a bit, then meandered to my air-conditioned hotel room glad I only booked a single night.
I edited and uploaded photos until four. At four I was out the door, my stomach roaring in anticipation of a steak.
When I took my seat at the restaurant there were two couples there for a wine sampling, but no one else. Bach’s cello suites played in the background. A cool breeze rolled off the cobblestone street and into the restaurant.
“You’re looking for a steak?” said the same woman from earlier.
“The biggest steak you have.”
“We have two types; ribeye, which is a bit fattier, chewier and somewhat thin…”
In the name of a good steak I’d pushed price out of my mind the moment I found the restaurant, but when I glanced down at the menu and saw the ribeye was six dollars less than the filet the woman’s overt undersell was explained.
“The filet is lean, thick, and more flavorful.”
That wasn’t right at all. The ribeye, with its marbling, would undoubtably be more flavorful. And why was she explaining the basics of steak to me in the first place? Couldn’t she see I was a man on a mission? Would I be hunting for steak without knowing the first thing about them? Would I have such a strong hankering in ignorance?
And why the hell was I being so critical? Food brain was getting to me. The woman was only doing her job and I could order whatever steak I wanted.
“I’ll take the rib-eye medium rare, please. And a glass of merlot, if possible.”
“We don’t hold merlot unfortunately, but we have a syrah and a malbec.”
“The syrah is perfect, thanks.”
I handed back my menu.
Then I leaned into my chair and watched people pass the colonial buildings of Granada.
The rib-eye came a bit later. I had a Cigar Aficionado magazine that I pushed aside so I could fully appreciate the awe-inspiring cut of meat in front of me.
It was a beautiful slab. Colors of seared meat highlighted by the red within. Where there was fat on the steak the meat leaned over slightly, hitting at tenderness. And around the steak, greater in color but only secondary in importance, were garlic mashed potatoes, circles of carrots and zucchini, and three green beans tied together with the skin of another green bean.
I took my knife and fork and made my first cut with as much reverence as an archeologist dusting off a fossil. Red juice poured out and I soaked some of it back into the triangular piece I cut. Then I took that first bite, that first bite that I’d fantasized of during endless hot roads and while sipping water between uninspired peanut-butter and jellies. That first bite that sent me from my minimalist existence back to the bountiful world that knows skyscrapers and libraries and women in glittery dresses.
And the steak was my childhood too, it was the two freezers in our garage that my dad ran his catering business out of. It was steak once a week, and shrimp, and fish. It was a childhood of plenty, in the land of plenty, in the boon years of Clinton.
And it was only a steak too. A juicy, perfectly cooked, slightly salted, nearly tear-inducing steak.
I’d never eaten a steak so slow.
I made each cut and took each bite with philosophical awareness. How long would it be until my next steak? After seeing my friends in Costa Rica how long would it be until my next hot shower? And greater and vastly more important than all that, when would I be sitting down for Sunday dinner with my family again?
I was content, smiling, and yet those questions appeared. They didn’t molest me. They were passive things to consider, like quotes on a poster.
The steak, I realized, was the physical manifestation of everything good in life.
And realizing this, when the waitress came to clear my table, I ordered another.